Meet aero-obsessed, Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling rider, Dan Bigham. Find out what makes the bronze medal-winning, record-breaking time trial specialist tick in a Q&A with our very own Katie Kookaburra.
THE 28-year-old Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling Team rider is best known for his track and time trial victories – as well as being a self-confessed aerodynamicist.
We grabbed a quick chat with Dan and he tells us how training is going in lockdown. As well as detailing how he found that stripping the paint off his Ribble Ultra TT helped him secure an all-important podium place.
Dan, you are the king of all things aero, so let’s start off with you telling us about your bikes. I have two bikes at present, my original blue sparkle Ultra TT that I used throughout 2019 season. I also have the stripped-down black Ultra TT that I rode to the bronze medal in the Mixed Relay Team Time trial at the UCI Road Worlds in Harrogate.
Both are very similar in build but with a few differences. The main being that I run an SRM Track Science power crank on the black Ultra TT. It has a narrower Q factor than the Quarq DZero on the blue Ultra TT, and the data quality is second to none. Both are equipped with WattShop Anemoi aero extensions and are rolling on Continental GP TT 111 tyres. The blue sparkle Ultra TT is used as my day to day training bike. I do this so that I don’t put unnecessary miles on the black race bike. The black bike gets lots of time and attention, tweaking and figuring out new ways to make it faster.
How did you realise stripping down the bike would make a significant difference? Once I knew racing the Worlds TTT was a reasonable likelihood I got over to Harrogate to ride the course and collect some data. I put the TTT file through my simulation software that assesses the sensitivities of each performance variable (mass, CdA, Crr, drivetrain efficiency etc), it showed just how critical mass was going to be.
With lots of climbing combined with steep descents into heavy braking zones, minimising kinetic energy storage was going to be a big win. At that point, I contacted Ribble to see if they would be keen to produce a fully stripped down frameset with the absolute bare minimum of paint on.
John and I used it to good effect, taking the 3rd step on the podium by around 3 seconds, or the difference of the paint job.
Tell us about what it felt like coming 5th at the National Road Champs last year? I was content with the result. I went into it wanting to execute my perfect race, and what would be, would be. Top 5 was achievable, but deep down I wanted to be on the podium. I wasn’t too far away from that, 20 seconds or about 6 watts. To be mixing it with World Tour pros like Dowsett, Cummings, Doull, Davies and Stannard is great. I love challenging the big names, but winning is why I race. I’m hopeful that the Nationals are rearranged this year, as I’m confident I can challenge for the top step.
What is it about aerodynamics that you enjoy learning? I just thoroughly enjoy learning! Going to bed at night knowing I’m in a better place than I was when I woke up is a nice feeling. I often go off down wild tangents of research with just a hunch or a theory.
Quite often they come to nothing, but occasionally they do come together and I unearth a bit of a performance gem.
Aerodynamics is where the big gains come from, and the fact it is so individual makes it so interesting from a development perspective.
What works for one person won’t always work for another, so it rewards a thorough approach to improvement and not just a copy and paste method.
How did you get used to riding in such an aggressive position? I think “aggressive” in the world of TT-ing has changed quite a bit in the past few years. What used to be a super slammed position that destroyed your glutes and hamstrings, is now a much higher position. One that balances aerodynamics and power but with a much lower, tucked head position. No longer are your glutes giving in, but your neck and shoulders are screaming from the tight shrug. My adaptation to that has come from a combination of physiotherapy, strength & conditioning and good old fashioned time on the bike in that position.
Having the ability to ride like that for hours on end really pays dividends when you’re deep in the hurt locker at the end of a TT.
If someone is wanting to get into TT, what tips would you give? The first step would be to get stuck into a good old fashioned British midweek TT.
I think every town has one and they’re just such a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm. Use that as a benchmark for progression and also for ideas of how to improve. Check out the top rider’s bikes, see what they’re doing and ask them why. You’ll find a lot of help that way and soon be on your way to being a top tester.
What is your dream course? Give me something with a bit of everything. High speed, climbs, descents, technical sections, maybe a spot of rain too. I like courses that test every aspect of a time triallist.
If you could ride with anyone, who would it be? There are a lot of people I’d like to meet and spend some time talking to, and a bike ride is the best chance to pick somebody’s brain.
I would probably go for a ride with Colin Chapman if he was still alive (F1 engineer and designer, plus all-around smart guy).
If I had to pick a cyclist, I’d go for George Bennett (Jumbo Visma) as he’s a switched on guy with some cool thoughts and opinions.
Is your training staying the same amid Corona? How are you coping with lockdown? Funny that you ask… but it’s actually improved. I can struggle a great deal with balancing work, running the track team and riding my bike. I tend to go in cycles of good quality training and then good quality work, usually interspersed with a lot of travel.
Now I’m locked down I’ve got a lot more consistency in my life and I’m training very well. And, recovering even better. It’s been nice to take a step back from the consistent rush to have a deeper think about what matters. What I should spend my time on and what I need to do to move forward in both work and sport.
It’s also been nice to catch up on all of those “things I’ll do when I have a spare day”.
All in all, I’ve found lockdown to be quite productive and constructive. It is a strange time nonetheless, and I hope that we continue to get a handle on the crisis. The current pandemic makes you realise that there are bigger things than sport.
Which events are you planning on later in the year? I wish I could give you a straight answer. I’m hoping that we return to some sort of normality in a few months time and can have a great block of late summer racing.
The British scene has this weird obsession with cramming the vast majority of their races into April, May and June. It will be nice to have a season(ish) where we actually race in nice weather. With stacked fields of riders with great form trying to maximise what we have left of a calendar.
It’s going to be a competitive time, that’s for sure. My big targets are the National TT and road race, Tour of Britain (especially the TTT), followed by hopefully world champs selection for the TTT. Finally a tilt at some of the UCI TTs out on the continent before heading over to Bolivia for a go at some world records on the track.
As a pro, you get to ride in some pretty epic locations. Where is your favourite place for a spin? I do love a good long ride around the Cotswolds. Joss and I spent some great time out in Tasmania over Christmas, which was just amazing. The roads were empty and smooth, there were huge climbs, open fields, beaches and rainforests. It’s ticked all of the boxes for a top-notch adventure. Whilst we were there we rode through a very small town called Derby! It just so happened to be their cycling capital with bikes everywhere and three cycling cafes. Coincidence?
One fact about yourself we might not know? Hmm, I do love a bit of Grand Designs. Pure binge-watching, it’s great. Thankfully our team manager Jack has a love for interior design too, although his Instagram followers don’t seem to enjoy it so much.
Follow Dan on Instagram here: @danbiggles
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